Community Building: Humble Respect (1 Peter 2:11-17)

[Listen to an audio version here.]

In Seattle’s so-called autonomous zone, they claim they have eliminated the need for cops. Looking closer, you find that they have what they call “sentinels.” These are people, sometimes armed, who enforce basic rules and try to keep order. So, whatever they say, they have replaced the cops with . . . their own cops.

House churches are similar. They say that they are just informal gatherings. However, I’ve always found that one person becomes the de facto leader or pastor. They are just churches meeting in a house, whatever they think of themselves. They haven’t escaped structure or organization or being an institution. They simply emphasize meeting in homes.

Why do I bring this up? Here’s my point. All communities will have authority structures and hierarchy. That’s an important thing to recognize. Authority structures and hierarchy are fundamental to communities. This is true in the animal world as well as the human world. There will always be someone or some group in charge that will provide structure and organization in the community.

How are we as Christians to look at authority structures in our nation, church, and family? The passage gives us a clear answer: humble respect. Before we consider this answer, let’s look at the context of the letter God inspired Peter to write in order to instruct us in these matters.

Our Calling to Moral Excellence
Peter has just explained to the scattered Christians that they have been purchased by the blood of Christ. They have an unspeakable joy that is available even in the midst of suffering. They have an inheritance that causes joy even though they suffer for a little while. They are a royal priesthood who have become the people of God.

And now, what are they to do? Carry on a war. The war begins in their very souls. He calls on them to “abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul” (1 Pet. 2:11). What is it that keeps us from being what God has called us to be? Is it not our anger, our lusts, our pride, our impatience? These things are warring against our souls! We’ve got to do battle.

The goal, though, is not just to avoid things. It is to live exemplary lives. “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Pet. 2:12). Let that sink in. He goes on to explain, “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people” (1 Pet. 2:15).

Do we even think about this? Would our neighbors say this about us? Would anyone scroll through our Facebook or Twitter account “see our good deeds [or words] and glorify our Father in heaven”? Are we demonstrating goodness in such a way that we show an exemplary and excellent approach to things? When we talk with people, do we show that we have a resource in Christ that is above the fray of our polarized society?

We’ve got to remember our high calling. We are a royal priesthood. We are representing the King of the Universe. We are called to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, as Jesus said. This means that we love the human race just as He does, sending His rain on the just and the unjust.

Our high calling means that we have a duty to live exemplary lives, but it also means that we have the resources to do so. As Peter said, “[we] have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood” (1 Pet. 1:2). That’s what makes it possible for us to “[l]ive such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Pet. 2:12).

Our Calling to Respect Authority
After saying this, he calls Christians to do one thing in particular, and it is crucial to building community. He calls us to honor and respect the authorities. “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right” (1 Pet. 2:13-14).

We need to honor and respect authority, as Peter says. When we value those in authority, we have humility. Humility is not primarily seeing ourselves as bad. Humility is seeing the value of others. In relation to authorities, it recognizes their position and values it. We must value those in authority for the sake of their position. We must give them honor.

This obligation is expressed in the 5th commandment, honor your father and your mother. The Heidelberg Catechism captures the essence of this commandment well:

Q. What is God’s will for you in the fifth commandment? A. That I honor, love, and be loyal to my father and mother and all those in authority over me; that I submit myself with proper obedience to all their good teaching and discipline; and also that I be patient with their failings—for through them God chooses to rule us.

This humility before authority seems like a long-forgotten virtue in America, but it is one that the Bible clearly commands.

Now, supposedly, conservatives, among whom you will find most evangelical Christians, are in favor of authority. They will talk about authority and approve of law and order. But what happens when the authority has a different perspective than the conservatives does? Respect for authority goes out the window. People will stand up and notice when we can show humble honor and respect to those in authority, including those in a different political party, even when they do something we disagree with.

In these times, we as Christians are going to have plenty of opportunity to show honor to authorities with whom we disagree. Here’s a couple of examples. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida decided to open the beaches in April. Many people were outraged and attacked him because they were scared of the virus. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan gave quite a few regulations in her state that many people thought were too restrictive or even unconstitutional. People were outraged and attacked her because they feared an the consequences of an excessive lockdown. Now, you may disagree with those governors, or you may really like what they did. You may feel the need to protest, or you may feel the need to cheer . Both are fine in their place, but either way, we have an obligation to disagree respectfully with everyone we disagree with but especially governing authorities. As the Heidelberg Catechism says, we are to “bear patiently with their failings.”

This is the sort of humility that the world will notice. It is the sort of humility that will glorify God, “for through them God chooses to rule us.” Submit to these authorities, for the Lord’s sake, as the Apostle Paul says.

Our Calling to Respect All People
But it’s not just governors and those who are in authority that we are called to respect. We are called to respect all people. Here’s the rule that Peter lays down. “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor” (1 Pet. 2:17).

We are called to be humble people. That means that we are called to respect everyone. Again, humility is not about thinking badly of ourselves. It’s thinking highly of other people and their interests.

How do we show respect? We show that we value people. We listen carefully to their insights. We value the contributions that they make. We appreciate their gifts. We are patient with their failings and slow to bring them up. This is what it means to show respect.

It fits well with what we have been talking about over the past two weeks. It means that we approach people with a readiness to hear them out. It means that we approach differences as being valuable and are ready to bear with people as we come together.

Why should we do this? Because we fear God. I like what Emerson Eggerichs said in talking about loving wives and respecting husbands, “Lord, fill my heart with love and reverence for You. Ultimately, this is about You and me.”

If we, in light of God’s glory, could truly show respect for leaders, even when we disagree with them, and for all people who are a part of the community, would this not create a community that people wanted to be a part of?

Let me close with one example of someone who learned humility that led to respect. Today, the church is growing rapidly in China. No one knows for sure how many Christians there are in China, but the number is in the tens of millions, possibly more.

The growth of Christianity in China began with the work of Christian missionaries in China. One of the most important was Hudson Taylor. He established a missions organization that brought hundreds of missionaries to China. Today, his organization supports 1,600 missionaries around the world.

The key thing to know for our purpose about Taylor’s mission is how he related to the Chinese. Many Western missionaries came as Westerners and remained Western in their clothing, appearance, and approach. They seemed very strange to the Chinese. Taylor was different. He adopted the diet, the dress, and the long braided hair of the Chinese. He tried to look like one of them. Other missionaries thought he was crazy, but Taylor was able to build a lot of bridges with the Chinese because he honored and respected their way of life and customs. He showed humility before them. We continue to reap the fruit of his community-building efforts today.

This is the sort of humility that Christians are called to. We honor people as people. We can honor their customs where it does not conflict with our faith. We can show that we respect and honor who they are. When people feel honored and respected, we can build community.

That’s how God builds community and restores community. He makes people like Hudson Taylor who have the type of character that builds bridges. That’s what He did through Hudson Taylor, and that’s what he’ll do with you as He works the same humility and respect in your heart. That’s God’s work. It’s what He’s up to in the world. Let’s join in with what He’s doing! Amen.


Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash


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